Milwaukee Bucks: Minutes without Giannis Antetokounmpo turning for worse

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 02: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 02: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks have been a well oiled machine with Giannis Antetokounmpo both on and off the court this season, but their play without their superstar is starting to tumble as the year goes on.

This weekend gave the Milwaukee Bucks a very uncomfortable peek into a different reality they certainly don’t want to get used to anytime soon.

As superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo heals from a minor knee sprain that he suffered in the fourth quarter of the Bucks’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last Friday night, the Bucks had to travel a three-game road trip without their signature star in action for two-thirds of the games.

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Now following their losses to both the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets Monday night, the Bucks are 5-3 in the games they’ve been without Antetokounmpo this season.

But as the Bucks have started to slide without their ultra gravitational force, the same is also true for the minutes that Antetokounmpo is off the court in the games he’s in.

Since the All-Star break, the Bucks have outscored their opponents by 156 points in the 280 minutes the 25-year-old has been on the floor, per In the 205 minutes they’ve been without Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have been outscored by 76 points.

Draw it out further and there’s been a slow buildup to this current trend as the Bucks are being outscored by 63 points since the start of February, which coincides with his most missed time this year between his knee sprain and missing two games due to the birth of his child before the All-Star break.

Of course, there are a couple of obvious reasons why this is becoming a trend, the biggest being the level of opponents the Bucks have faced following the break.

That won’t let up any time soon as the Bucks will continue to be tested over the final few weeks of the regular season where they will face plenty of East teams like the Boston Celtics, the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Toronto Raptors ahead of the playoffs starting. Same goes for West playoff teams the Bucks will face such as the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Rockets and the Memphis Grizzlies.

Going up against playoff teams to title contenders has given Bucks fans a sense that they will be battle tested more thoroughly than was the case going into last season’s playoff run. There is certainly some truth to that, but what it also does is test one of the biggest priorities that’s been essential to Antetokounmpo maintaining his effectiveness over an 82-game season and what is shaping up to be deep playoff runs in back-to-back years.

The Bucks under head coach Mike Budenholzer have been steadfast in trying to maximize minutes for all their players, not just Antetokounmpo, over the last two seasons. But as Antetokounmpo was being run into the ground over the previous coaching regime and with a knee injury that flared up as a result of being overextended, Budenholzer and the Bucks’ medical team have been keen on trying to keep Antetokounmpo as fresh as possible at the cost of fewer minutes here and there.

It’s a testament to the Bucks’ depth and strong supporting cast such as Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton for being able to not just withstand, but win the minutes when they’re without Antetokounmpo on the floor as they have done on the whole this year. In the 1,319 minutes played without Antetokounmpo this season, the Bucks have a +4.1 net rating against their opponents.

But as the competition rises, Bucks lineups played without Antetokounmpo are starting to slide in their effectiveness and it begs the question of whether they’ll deviate from their strategy regarding Antetokounmpo’s minutes workload when they’ll inevitably be faced with that dilemma in the playoffs.

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This current losing skid the Bucks are in may be a blip on the radar and the same goes for how they’ll try to perform without their 25-year-old superstar on the floor. But it’s never too early to think about how the Bucks might tweak their usage of Antetokounmpo’s minutes as they look to avoid making the same mistakes that contributed to their playoff collapse last year.